iPad: It’s a tool, not a toy

Anthony Caruana
4 September, 2010
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As an iPad owner, the question I’m most asked is, “What does it do?” For most people, the iPad is a shiny piece of tech that is little more than an overgrown iPod. And, to some degree, they’re right. It shares the same OS as the iPod and iPhone (iOS 4) and shares many of the same characteristics.

The iPad has become an important part of my computing kit. It’s all but replaced my use of a MacBook Pro, netbook and Kindle. What’s interesting to me is that all three of those devices are better than the iPad at something but that the iPad manages to make the right compromises.

But what makes the iPad a real productivity boost rather than toy are the applications. Here are a few that I think every business user needs on their iPad to maximise the return on their investment.

Bento for iPad

There are a thousand small, organisational tasks that we all need to keep track of. Bento (pictured) is all about creating quick, simple, personal applications to manage specific tasks. While that sounds a lot like keeping a list in a notebook, Bento’s strength is the ability to use the data stored on a Mac or iPad. For example, you can link information from your email, photo library and calendar together in Bento.

While Bento on the iPhone is great, the iPad version, with the larger keyboard, is great for using on the go. And the large screen makes it easy to use purpose-built applications.

Even if you’re inclined to rolling your own applications, Bento comes with a clutch of ready-to-use templates, and a vibrant community shares thousands more. It sells for $5.99 on the App Store.

iWork and Documents to Go

If you’re an Apple loyalist, the iWork suite – Pages, Numbers and Keynote – would seem to be a great addition to the iPad.

To a large degree they are, but there’s an awful lot missing from the desktop versions. However, they do enough for most basic tasks. Simple documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be easily created and sent to your Mac or colleagues.

Documents to Go, another office suite, is a mainstay of portable computing and has a long pedigree with Palm and Windows Mobile. The job of creating and editing documents, spreadsheets and presentations is straightforward, although the user interface is less user-friendly than iWork.

The one major deficiency in Documents to Go is that it isn’t able to output to an external screen using the iPad Dock Connector to VGA Adapter.

Each of the iWork apps sell for $12.99 – that’s $38.97 for the full suite (get Pages, Numbers or Keynote on the App Store). Documents to Go Premium is $17.99. If you don’t need the presentation module, the price drops to $12.99.


Anyone whose day-to-day work involves the collection of bits and pieces of information needs Evernote. As well being an iPad app, it can be used on the iPhone and web browsers.

Evernote lets you store web pages, web addresses and random notes in a free-form database. There’s no rigid structure – it’s all about collecting random information.

By allowing you to sync your content across multiple platforms, Evernote provides access to your data no matter where you are. If you’re using Firefox or Chrome, there’s a plug-in that lets you add data straight into Evernote by simply pressing a new button on your toolbar.

Like all the best things in life, Evernote for iPad is free.

This article previously appeared in the August issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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